van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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 Memoir of Johanna Gesina van Gogh - Bonger

By V. W. van Gogh (her son, and Vincent's nephew)

Johanna Gesina Bonger, Theo's wife, was born in Amsterdam on October 4, 1862. She was the fifth child of a family of seven. Her father was an insurance broker. He was very fond of music, and my mother particularly remembered the evening performances of quartets in the parental home.

As was usual in those days, the two eldest sons went to the Commercial High School and then became office apprentices. It was a matter of course that the eldest daughters assisted the mother in her housekeeping. The younger ones learned more. My mother completed her studies of the English language, her youngest sister went to the conservatory of music and her youngest brother studied law (W. A. Bonger, afterward professor of sociology and criminology at Amsterdam University).

My mother's favourite brother was Andries (Dries), to whom she came next in years. In Paris he was a friend of Theo van Gogh, and also knew Vincent (see Letters, in which Vincent often calls him André). Later in Amsterdam he went into the insurance business. He was an intimate friend of Odilon Redon's, of whose work he owned a large collection. He also owned various pictures by Vincent, Cézanne and Émile Bernard (whom he knew well).

Next door to the Bonger family on the Weteringschans (the name of the drive) lived the Weissman family. My grandmother was one of Father Weissman's sisters, and the children grew up together. One of them was A. W. Weissman, the architect of the Municipal Museum (Stedelijk Museum) in Amsterdam, and a writer on the subject of seventeenth-century and later architecture. His Reminiscences were published in Yearbook No. XLII of the Genootschap (Society) Amstelodamum - 1948; among other things he gives a description of the Wete-ringschans of his youth.

Johanna Bonger was a cheerful and lively child. She studied English, and passed her Examinations A and B, in the philological and literary sections respec-tively, equal to college degrees of our days. In connection with this she stayed some months in London, where she worked in the library of the British Museum. For her examination it was required that she should make a thorough study of one author in particular; she chose Shelley. Like so many young people of those days, she greatly admired Multatuli (pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker [1820-1887], Dutch author and pioneer of modern thinking), whose influence she underwent too.

From her seventeenth year onward she kept a diary, in which she described her feelings and experiences with great candour and clarity of expression.

At the age of twenty-two she became a teacher of English at a boarding school for girls at Elburg; after that she taught at the High School for Girls at Utrecht.

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